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Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist, whose work deeply influenced the French avant-garde and modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. As a descendant of the Peruvian nobility, he spent his early childhood in Lima, Peru. This nomadic upbringing aroused his curiosity for exotic lands and cultures, which would eventually lead him to Tahiti and Martinique. Gauguin discovered art relatively late in life. He was married and working in Paris as a stockbroker when he befriended painter, Camille Pissarro. By 1879 he was Pissarro’s unofficial pupil and patron, and after the stock market crashed in 1882, Gauguin decided to become an artist full-time. His early paintings were mainly Impressionist landscapes influenced by Pissarro and Paul Cezanne, who he met through Pissarro. In the following years, Gauguin traveled to Martinique, Panama, and the French region, Brittany. During his second visit to Pont-Aven, Brittany in 1888, Gauguin worked side by side with Post-Impressionist artist Emile Bernard. Their fruitful encounter resulted in Gauguin’s groundbreaking painting Vision After the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888). In the painting, Gauguin created a synthesis between two realities: the everyday life of the Breton women and their vision of the biblical event. He used the term Synthetism to describe his work because he aimed to synthesize between the outward appearance of the subject, the artist’s emotional response to the subject, and the aesthetic considerations of line, form, and color. Over the following years, he traveled between Brittany and Paris and became affiliated with the Symbolist movement. In 1891, Gauguin left France to travel to the island of Tahiti, which he imagined as a ‘primitive paradise’ free from the constraints of modern society. However, once he arrived, he realized that Tahiti was profoundly changed by French colonial policies and that the place he imagined did not exist. In his art, he tried to reimagine this lost paradise and experience the native Polynesian culture and customs. Paintings such as The Seed of the Areoi (1892) and The Moon and the Earth (1893) represented the artist’s interpretations of ancient Polynesian myths. Gauguin had a profound interest in non-Western cultures and traditions, and in his works, he often appropriated elements of Japanese, Javanese, and Egyptian art. His ability to fuse a variety of cultural influences and sources resulted in unique artistic creations. In 1893, Gauguin returned to France where he found little success and struggled financially. In 1895, he moved permanently to Tahiti. There, he continued to struggle with illness and poverty, and in 1898 he even tried to commit suicide. His late works include the monumental painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are we Going? (1897-1898) and Two Tahitian Women (1899). Even though Gauguin continued to depict Tahiti as an idealized paradise, he became disillusioned by the Westernization of the island. In 1901, he moved to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa, where he died two years later, on March 8, 1903. Gauguin was largely unappreciated during his lifetime, and only after his death, he received recognition for his experimental use of color and innovative Synethetist style.
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